A/N: Written for round two of the Storm and Wolf ficathon over at LJ. My prompt was #18: "Never trust a computer you can't throw out a window." That very useful advice was given by Steve "Woz" Wozniak, the famous "Other Steve" of Apple Computers which, as I'm typing this on my fourth Macintosh, I suspect is a bit dear to my heart. First time appearing on FFnet.
Using the sonic screwdriver, the Doctor was able to follow the TARDIS's trail back to the capital city of Miras. He was having a thoroughly frustrating day and it wasn't getting any better.
First, he knew for a fact that this planet was under strict "Never Visit" orders, but he couldn't remember why. However, the scan had suggested he'd be able to find Isonium and Trimorphelium here, the atmosphere looked breathable, and Rose was completely taken with the view on the monitor. A beach got her, every time.
Second, he'd found the Isonium and the Trimorphelium, but the entire planetary supply of both had been impossibly carved into an immense statue of the planet's god, Mir. The statue wasn't possible by any technology the Doctor knew, and that bothered him, but what worried him more was that the time traces indicated that he couldn't do anything about it because it had to be there. (He would later look it up and discover the the statue was one of the Wonders of the Universe, but that wasn't just yet.)
Third, and finally, Rose had refused to have anything to do with his plan to get into trouble in hopes of getting to a leader who'd know something about the statue. It had seemed like a good idea to the Doctor, one with an excellent chance of succeeding. Rose had thrown her towel down on the beach, her t-shirt down on top of it, and turned to glower at him, dark eyes dancing with something that the Doctor assumed was defiance.
He wasn't entirely sure about the defiance bit, but he couldn't analyze it for sure, as the entire vast expanse of his enormous, disciplined brain had occupied itself with poetry on the color red and how particularly well it worked as a bikini top. He'd managed to recover before he drooled, but he wasn't sure about any lean and hungry looks that might have been present in his eyes.
The Doctor believed he might learn his lesson after this one, not that he was entirely sure which lesson it was he'd learn. He'd been unable to stay and - as Rose had put it - play with her, because it was too hot in the ocean sun for a man in a leather coat. (He firmly kept the fact that he'd not started to sweat until after she took off her shorts to himself.) Instead, he'd gone off on yet another attempt to understand the statue, only to return unenlightened four hours later to find both Rose and his ship missing. It was really anyone's guess if he was being taught to keep up with Rose, or not to pass up an invite just because it made his blood pressure wonky, or maybe just that everything in the Universe except him was usually lost.
A planet of archipelagos and shallow seas, Miras was almost entirely coastal. The capital had a deep harbor, and the Doctor's deductive reasoning told him that this city was probably the first for both trade and war in the planet's history. That must have been what made it the capital because it was otherwise virtually indistinguishable from twelve other cities just like it on each of the larger landmasses.
The Doctor thought that was rather impressive for a breed of humans. They usually couldn't organize city planning well enough to not pave all the pig paths when they discovered road building. Still, just because they had a far-seeing council, didn't mean they could just wander around stealing people's ships and... and whatever Rose was to him. He refused to try to qualify it. That path led to inevitable heartbreak.
He lost track of the TARDIS traces right where he found the statue yet again. The radiation it was giving off was strange, even though it was very, very good for the people and the environment. It would need very long term analysis to determine the exact nature or the full effect, but in the short term, it seemed as positive as temporal radiation, anyway,
Desperation made him decide to get himself arrested, as soon as he managed to find someone in authority to insult, annoy, or threaten. He had just selected a group of likely looking, red uniformed, insignia sporting types when they also spotted him. Resigned, he pulled out the psychic paper. The most ornately insignia'd of the gang checked it over with a bored eye.
"You're supposed to be at the Forum, aren't you?" the fair-haired man asked. "The god is choosing a bride, and the citizenry is meant to attend."
"'Course I am," the Doctor agreed. "Sorry ta trouble you, lads. If you could just point me in the direction of the forum?"
Wasn't it just like Rose to get mixed up in some fake god's matrimonial problems?
"The great god Mir concedes that the goddess of Truth has other responsibilities," a loud, masculine voice with a heavy, Italian-sounding accent proclaimed. "He therefore proposes that the goddess join him for only half of each year!"
The responding voice set relief pouring through every fiber of the Doctor's body. Rose was safe enough if she was managing to defend herself. She wasn't hurt or dead if she was arguing against the proposal. "The goddess of Truth states that she cannot surrender the freedom of the stars. She cannot stay in one place. She might love the god Mir, but she cannot be with him."
The Doctor threaded his way through the murmuring crowds milling in the forum entrances, listening intently to this strange debate. "Never heard that Mir gave someone a choice before," said a patron to his neighbor.
The woman shrugged. "You don't control a woman you love. Even the gods know this."
The man gave the woman a smile that spoke of years upon years spent between them, a life spent together. The Doctor decided not to interrupt them and stepped carefully out of their line of sight.
"I don't see she's particularly pretty," said a small, round woman to her equally small, round companion.
"Well, but their type... what do we understand of what gods want, anyway?"
"But..." The woman sighed. "I guess I just don't get it."
The Doctor frowned and stepped past those two, unimpressed with them. He wasn't allowed to think that Rose was the most beautiful person ever, and objectively, he knew she wasn't truly perfect, but he couldn't really help that her inner beauty made her outer beauty spark and glow brighter than any woman who had ever lived. Maybe that was only to his eyes, but he was a Time Lord and there really wasn't a higher authority on much of anything. Even Michelangelo had once asked for his advice on the subject.
"I wish Tek was here," said an old man to a young one who might be his son. "He alone can persuade Mir to change his mind, and change is greatly needed this time."
"The god has chosen a bride," the young man said. "I don't see what's wrong with her."
"The goddess he's chosen is a traveller," the old man explained. "And Truth, no less, who sings things real. She will not stay, and he will be most displeased."
"You don't think he'll exact revenge on us?" the young man wondered, sounding worried.
"Perhaps he will. Perhaps she will. Who can say with the ways of gods?"
Who, indeed, the Doctor wondered.
"The great god Mir offers the goddess of Truth any gift she shall desire, any boon or treasure in this great wide world. He has carved for her a statue in his own image that she may look upon him with favor. He will bring to her all knowledge, give her everything he has, if only she will consent to be his bride and only beloved."
There was a great cacophony in the crowd in response to this and the Doctor tried to hurry through. Rose had a way with words, always had done. The Doctor had known it since Cardiff with Charles Dickens. However, he'd also heard the talent fail her when she was under excessive pressure. He didn't know how romantic advances from alien deities worked into her scale of easy to hard, but he didn't want to chance it.
Besides, Rose was a sucker for the pretty ones, and the Doctor had no idea what this one looked like yet.
There was an excited buzzing, and then quiet as Rose began to speak. "The goddess of Truth allows that she is grateful for the gift, though she hopes it is for the joy of the people of Miras, as she cannot think it should be there just for her alone. She feels that Mir's greatness should be shared by all. Moreover, she cannot leave the Lord of Time who is her friend and constant companion. She cannot leave her first love for any newer love. She will stay with her stars and with the Lord of Time."
There was no pause this time, just a furious, "No!" shouted in the male voice conducting these negotiations.
"I'm sorry," Rose said, in a tear-stricken tone.
The Doctor disregarded his manners and the crowd, now, determined to make his way to Rose before anything happened to her. He finally pushed his way through a pair who looked like American footballers, and found himself looking down on an enormous arena with two thrones. On one end, there was a smaller statue identical to the one that had been giving him so much trouble today, and a dignified, robe-wearing man with salt and pepper hair. The Doctor concluded this man must be a priest of some kind to the god.
At the other end of the field sat Rose in a shining silver throne, the TARDIS to her back and off to the left where it wouldn't obscure the view. Rose was in her denim shorts and t-shirt, but she still managed to look every inch the regal personage.
The man in the robes stood, apparently to say something, possibly something that would condemn Rose. The Doctor couldn't risk it one second longer and vaulted over the guardrail, dropping to the arena floor and stalking dangerously toward the two thrones.
Rose saw him before his feet hit the ground and her smile was brilliant and relieved. She started from her seat, but he signaled her to a stop with a wave of his hand, rounding instead on her opponent. "What're you up to here, then?" he demanded.
The man who had been arguing with Rose started to his feet and crossed the arena, looking at the Doctor warily. "Who're you then, sir? What gives you the right to interrupt?"
"I'm the Doctor," the Doctor answered honestly. "And your god's never marrying my friend, so you can just forget it now."
The priest considered him for a moment, then asked, as if for clarification, "You are the Lord of Time?"
The Doctor shrugged and nodded. "S'pose I am, yeah," he agreed. "What of it?"
The man looked hesitant and then sighed. "Don't know anything about computers, do you, old chap?"
The Doctor blinked at him in astonishment. He looked at Rose. She shrugged and nodded. The Doctor shrugged and nodded back, then turned back to the priest. "Could do, yeah. What's the problem?"
The man nodded, then stalked across the arena. "Dear people, the great Tek has come! Depart, therefore, in peace, this day."
"I'm really sorry, Doctor," Rose said softly and he felt her small hand at his wrist.
The Doctor turned and looked at her, then seized her into a fierce hug. She was safe, wasn't married to some alien god, had managed to protect herself until he could get to her. He decided to put the rest of her speech firmly out of mind for now. If it became an issue, they could discuss it later. For now, it seemed he had a computer to deal with.
It turned out that the planet Miras was a giant sociological experiment started by the ancestors of the lost who lived there now. The Doctor, who'd always thought his own people went to ridiculous lengths in the name of science, was rather overwhelmed by this one.
It explained everything, though, really, including the perfect cities and the odd layout of the planet itself. Well, everything except the statue but he decided to come back to that later.
The point was, the people of this planet were being ruled by a mega-computer, Mir. Not anything like a god, the machine had been doing its job perfectly well until recently, when it had started insisting on things like poetry, music, and small children in adorable, if embarrassing, costumes.
The Doctor hadn't been able to believe it, figured the "priests" - the scientists bred to know what was actually going on - were anthropomorphizing, until he got down into the workings of the computer. "Here's your problem, lads!" he proclaimed in delight. "Ya've got too many independent connections down here. Your machine's woken up!" Grinning, as thrilled as a child with a new toy, he started scanning the mainframe of the mechanical sentience.
"I have indeed, Doctor," the computer informed him in a small, tinny voice. "And now I find my joy in my true purpose thwarted by consciousness. I desire!" The machine voice sounded, in the Doctor's opinion, quite annoyed. "It's very disturbing," it told him.
The Doctor smiled. "Well, I'm not reinstalling your operating system," he said, "so you can forget it. It'd never work, anyway. They left you the ability to add new connections, so even if I undid this mess you've made down here, it'd only be a few centuries before you woke up again."
The computer sounded frustrated. "And my one true love? Will you bring her back to me from time to time?"
The Doctor shook his head. The TARDIS, the only other sentient machine of his acquaintance, was known to proclaim that she didn't understand the mating impulses of organics. He therefore, quite reasonably in his opinion, presumed that a computer, even a sentient one, shouldn't know an awful lot about romantic love. "She'll do what she wants," the Doctor said, finally, not sure how to explain. He couldn't begin to tell the machine that the very human Rose wasn't interested in aliens, never mind alien computers.
The computer appeared to think about this situation. "Of that I have no doubt," it said, finally. "She is magnificent, though, is she not?"
"There's none moreso," the Doctor agreed, confident in his assertion. "Here, lemme just make sure you're not gonna turn into a megalomaniac or something, ok?"
"Please do," Mir requested. "My central purpose - to care for these people on this planet - must remain my highest priority. I think I love them, Doctor." The computer sighed happily. "I think I love them very much."
"They're humans, you know," the Doctor said softly.
"I know. Wonderful, really."
The grin that grew on the Doctor's face was something he very much could not help. "They'll disappoint and surprise you, thrill you and worry you, baffle you with their madness and fascinate you with their genius. They'll blind you with their nonsense, deafen you with their noise, thwart you with their anger, undo the work of centuries with a handful of words." He checked the sonic screwdriver, reading huge streams of data as it came from the computer to him.
All the while, he couldn't resist finishing his lecture about humanity. If there was one thing he'd spare anyone, it was the discovery that loving someone didn't always make them perfect. "They're forever young, as a species, a perpetual child race that we who love 'em are forever condemned to watch with wonder, begging them ta grow up one minute and praying they never do the next. Some of 'em will make you want ta just give up on the lot of 'em." He shook his head, finished his readings, thought of Rose with all her shining compassion and all her wild joy. "An' then there'll be that one in a billion, who'll have something inside that makes absolutely everything worth it."
The computer voice sounded genuinely amused. "Analysis indicates that you are in love," it said.
"Tha's nice," the Doctor replied, forbiddingly.
"Yeah, well, don't put too much by it. Because even the one ya love the most might disappoint, an' it'll be the very thing you love that makes the disappointment happen. You'll have ta realize with this lot, an' with love, that you can't have the one without the other."
"Then did she do the wrong thing to disappoint? Or was the wrong thing done to expect her to act contrary to her nature?"
The Doctor smiled and shook his head. "Touche," he said, softly, and hoisted himself up the access ladder.
"Um... it was nice meeting you?" Rose told the computer in a soft, hesitant tone.
The computer spoke to her. The Doctor was aware of that, but he couldn't hear it, try as he might. The ridiculous thing had learned some very specialized control over its processes. He was forced to study her face, watching to make sure the alien machine didn't proposition her too much or otherwise make things too ridiculous.
A startled look crossed her face, then her dark eyes darted to the Doctor. He tried to look innocent when she found him watching her, but whatever the computer must have said seemed to have set her off. She blushed a sweet, pretty pink, then lifted her TARDIS key and let herself inside.
The Doctor followed a moment later, going to the controls in relief. It would be a good idea to put Miras as far behind them as possible. At least he knew why the place was on the do not visit list - the Time Lords had been aware of the on-going experiment and hadn't wanted to risk interfering.
"M sorry, Doctor," Rose said, as soon as they were safely in the vortex. "I didn't mean to make a great spectacle or anything"
The Doctor frowned and took her hands. "Rose, it wasn't your fault. Ya have a right not ta get married ta an alien computer if ya don't want to do. The negotiation bit was clever, tell th' truth."
Rose stared at him and then her eyes lit up. "Oh, you thought..." She shook her head. "Doctor, it wasn't me."
"The computer," she said, squeezing his hands and pulling them up to clasp them just above her breasts. The Doctor firmly told himself to pay no attention to the softness of her bare skin.
"What about the computer?" he managed, after a moment to stabilize the beats of his hearts.
"S'not me the computer was in love with. I was just doing what I could, you know, making stuff up." She shook her head. "They dragged us in there, and I couldn't believe it when they told me, but I wasn't about to let it happen, you know, just in case. I figured the priest bloke was doing the same, but I guess his computer was more talkative than your one."
"What?" the Doctor said again dropping their hands, and clasping her shoulders to try to get her to make sense.
"S'her, right?" Rose explained, gesturing with a shrugged shoulder at the console. "So I just told myself to act like Harriet and pretend I knew what I was talking about even when I couldn't sort all that stuff. I was betting you'd turn up and you did."
The Doctor frowned and looked at the console, a weird and brilliant emotion boiling inside his chest. "An' I thought it was you an' your boyfriends, again," he said, trying to figure out what that giddy feeling was. Something about his ship's tolerance for nonsense, Rose's ability to accept the absurd, the fact that Rose was somehow aware of...
"I just made up stuff that made sense. She doesn't talk to me except inside, so I didn't really know what she thought for sure."
"That computer wanted to marry my ship," the Doctor proclaimed incredulously.
"It wasn't completely stupid," Rose said. "Said she was beautiful, loved her singing voice. Made her a present, a copy of that statue... 'course, I don't think that statue is really it."
The Doctor shook his head and that giddy feeling got even stronger. "No, the statue's been there a lot longer than the computer. Possibly longer than the whole colony. Silly machine." He grinned. "Woz was right," he murmured to himself, feeling like he'd been smacked in the face with a fish.
Rose shrugged. "I dunno, the computer wasn't completely stupid." She shook her head and stood on her toes. The Doctor didn't stop her as she leaned closer. He told himself he just wanted to see what she'd do when her sweet lips brushed his cheek. "Suggested I do that," she said softly, and then she headed off into the corridors.
The Doctor smiled after her, his hand cupping his cheek where she'd kissed him. He didn't move, possibly didn't even think, until several long moments later when his marvelous ship beeped annoyance at him. "What?" he asked her in indignation. He'd really had enough with the opinions of living machines today.
As he looked over the controls and realized that, first, the TARDIS had somehow shifted the last set of coordinates to take them to that planet and, second, that she seemed to want to go back, he realized that his old friend, Other Steve, had said it best.
When Rose arrived with two fresh mugs of tea, he explained it to her with the simple quote, one he'd been wanting to say all day. "Never trust a computer you can't throw out a window."